Various journals and news outlets, including the British Medical Journal, have debunked the myth that a healthy adult needs to drink eight glasses of water every day. While no one doubts the benefits of drinking water, there’s simply no set amount that every person should drink on a daily basis. How much fluid we need depends on a variety of factors, including our size and activity level.
That being said, dehydration is a serious issue, especially for people who are older. Researchers estimate that between 20-30% of older people have water-loss dehydration.
As we age, our bodies change in many ways, including the amount of water our bodies contain. When we’re younger, more than half our body is made of water.
When we get older, this percentage of water drops, making it easier for us to become dehydrated. And women have a lower percentage of water than men, so they can dehydrate more quickly.
What Causes Dehydration?
Dehydration is a problem that nurses see on a regular basis with older patients. While dehydration can be caused by a medical problem (such as extended vomiting, diarrhea and sweating), we often find there are other non-medical reasons.
Many patients have no appetite and don’t feel thirsty, so they don’t consume meals or snacks on a regular basis. Some are not able to get around well enough to prepare a meal or fetch a drink, or to get the necessary groceries. Others restrict their fluid intake because they’re afraid of being incontinent (urinating before they can get to the bathroom).
Many older patients don’t drink enough fluids during a heatwave, or take medications that are making them go to the bathroom more frequently.
Still others have problems chewing or swallowing, so they avoid doing so as much as possible.
What Happens if You’re Dehydrated?
Your body needs fluid to function properly. If you don’t have enough fluid, your blood pressure can drop. This can lead to lightheadedness and fainting, which can cause several other problems, such as head injuries and bone fractures from falls.
Other effects of mild-to-moderate dehydration can include:
- Increased feeling of thirst
- Dry mouth and lips (may crack and cause sores)
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
As the dehydration becomes more serious, you can experience:
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Kidney stones or kidney failure
How to Stay Hydrated
Unless you have a medical problem that’s causing dehydration, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get enough fluids throughout the day.
Try sipping water or other beverages during the day (drinking a large amount all at once can fill you up, affecting your appetite). Suck on ice cubes, particularly if it’s a hot day, and eat fruit, such as watermelon, cucumber and cantaloupe, and other foods that have high fluid content.
In most cases, dehydration is preventable. By being aware of its causes and how to counteract it, you can help keep dehydration at bay.